Ending every sentence feels like a breakup to me, because the words have become so involved with each other and have tried out so many different positions on each other and have then eventually settled down into something so permanent and independent that I can feel the sentence physically breaking away from me, breaking off from me—dumping me altogether. My reaction is equal parts sadness, grief, and, I guess, a lust for revenge on behalf of the narrator. And it’s in this rocky state that I try to get another sentence started, maybe just a ‘fuck off’ lunge of a sentence, which I guess accounts for the lack of pillowy transitions in my fiction. There’s no cradling anywhere.
Getting inside a character is very much like when you dress up as a mascot and attempt to elicit the enthusiasm of a highly fickle and fairly inebriated sporting crowd, all of whom feel a certain degree of entitlement because they paid a good amount of money for their seats while avoiding other more essential expenses in their life, like health insurance and water softener. It is at turns thrilling and horrifying, and the ventilation leaves much to be desired.
What I feel most moved to write, that is banned—it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.
When you open a novel—and I mean of course the real thing—you enter into a state of intimacy with its writer. You hear a voice or, more significantly, an individual tone under the words. This tone you, the reader, will identify not so much by a name, the name of the author, as by a distinct and unique human quality. It seems to issue from the bosom, from a place beneath the breastbone. It is more musical than verbal, and it is the characteristic signature of a person, of a soul. Such a writer has power over distraction and fragmentation, and out of distressing unrest, even from the edge of chaos, he [or she] can bring unity and carry us into a state of intransitive attention. People hunger for this.
Stories mimic life like certain insects mimic leaves and twigs. Stories are about all the things that might’ve, could’ve, or would’ve happened, encrowded around and giving density and shape to undeniable physical events and phenomena. They are the rich, unseen underlayer of the most ordinary moments.
I was telling my class here yesterday about the weird irony of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction.’ That a fact is a thing done and so once it happens, it, in fact, has no reality. Whereas, a fiction that we associate with lies and untruths and the ‘not real,’ once it is a made thing, fiction is a made thing. It exists. It goes back to that verb, that really weird verb in all those languages, the verb that translates, that can mean ‘to do or to make’… One part, the fictional part, which is the made part, and the fact part is the thing that was done. So once it’s done, it has no existence. It’s completely gone. Once you make something, it has a reality.
Here’s my #awp2014 schedule, complete with three readings and two panels. See you in Seattle!
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2014
Reading: The First AWP Party, presented by Two Dollar Radio, Soho Press, The American Reader and Bookforum
with Cari Luna, D. Foy, Jeff Jackson, and Sean Madigan Hoen, hosted by Tod Goldberg
1524 Minor Ave.
Seattle, WA 98101
FB event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/611036298969015/
Presented by Bookforum, Soho Press, The American Reader, and Two Dollar Radio. Featured readings by Cari Luna, D. Foy, Matt Bell, Jeff Jackson, and Sean Madigan Hoen. Hosted by Tod Goldberg.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2014
Panel: Fabulist Fiction for a Hot Planet
with Christian Moody, Tessa Mellas, Alexander Lumans, and Lily Yu
Room 400, Washington State Convention Center, Level 4
12:00 pm to 1:15 pm
This panel of fabulists explores how eco-conscious fabulism is changing the literary landscape and public imagination. Panelists survey this trend in a collage of eco-fabulism from Kevin Brockmeier, Paolo Bacigalupi, Julia Slavin, Blake Butler, Alissa Nutting, and others. They dissect its writerly effects, pedagogical uses, and potential political and social reach in the world. Read it. Write it. Teach it. Eco-fabulism is the future and a way that writers can help save the world.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2014
All Publishers Great and Small: Reexamining the Book Business in the 21st Century
with Peter Mountford, Amelia Gray, Alissa Nutting, and Kevin Sampsell
Willow Room, Sheraton Seattle, 2nd Floor
12:00 pm to 1:15 pm
Major publishers increasingly chase blockbusters and avoid literary authors. Smaller presses still have less money for advances and marketing, but their titles attract an ever-growing share of award and review attention. The paradigm is shifting. A unique group of authors who have straddled this hinge—they each have at least one book out from a large trade house and one from a small independent press—offer an unusually honest and intimate appraisal of the rapidly changing book business.
Reading: AWP HEAT 2014: Burning Down the House (Proceeds Benefit VIDA)
reading in Heat 4 at 3pm, with Theo Nestor, Liz Prato, Cate Marvin, Shannon Barber, Lisa Borders, Brian Spears, and Caitlin Corrigan.
Daily Grill at the Sheraton Hotel
629 Pike Street
Seattle, WA 98101
FB event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/386563194822571/
AWP HEAT: Burning Down the House will set Seattle aflame with the intensity of our readers; they’re game-changers and trail-blazers like Alice Anderson, Matt Bell, Robin E. Black, Antonia Crane, Julia Fierro, Tyehimba Jess, Theo Nestor, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, and Whitney Otto (among others). Their words do more than “subvert the dominant paradigm,” they incinerate it. The personal and the political come together for this second annual AWP HEAT reading, a truly combustible evening. Co-hosted by Laura Bogart and Anna March. Free, but $5 suggested donation to benefit VIDA.
Reading: Pop Lit! 4 Writers Wrestling-with and Loving-on Pop Culture
with Phong Nguyen, Gary Jackson, and Esther Lee, hosted by Michael Nye
501 E. Pine St.
Seattle, WA 98122
FB event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/379023278909248
A literary reading in a cool comic book store! Four different writers who craft stories and poems on pop culture topics ranging from superheroes to alternate histories to mythical monsters take over Seattle AWP on Friday night: join Matt Bell (In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods), Gary Jackson (Missing You, Metropolis), Esther Lee (Spit), and Phong Nguyen (Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History) for a night of pop lit mayhem. KA-POW!
Symbols have this remarkable way (out of the myriad possibilities of their meaning, which nonetheless show one ostensible face) of providing an image that apparently can be understood, dearly loved, seared into the mind, yet also a source of trickery. The fairy tale gives us this moment of recognition, but also resists the possibility of a symbolic reading. The fairy tale lets itself fall into the labyrinthine difficulties of what a symbol might mean. That’s what I meant when I described the form’s selfishness. It attends to this internal life in ways that really stun me, to which I felt attracted, addicted, apprehensive.
Often, when a group of people, students and teacher, are reading a story, one of the most common things you hear is, ‘I want to know more about this character.’ And it’s the most fucked-up thing, because, while it’s true that you want to know more, knowing more doesn’t make the story better. Let’s say the writer then listens to that and says, okay, I’m going to feed the curiosity everyone says they have. The reader gets to stop and say, ‘Here’s my curiosity–come and satisfy it.’ You go and feed that, and suddenly the story goes away. This isn’t really a universal rule, but I do always wonder, what happens if you satisfy the curiosity? Where does the story go; where’s the drama, and where’s the tension?